Maybe it was an age thing. Pitt may be freshly shaved, his green-gray eyes set deep in a face that is suspiciously dewy for a father of four, but he is 43 years old. He’s no longer a twentysomething heartthrob trading on his boyish good looks.

“I liked it, man,” he says of turning 40. “Maybe I had a crisis earlier or something. Maybe I had it in my thirties. You know, it’s . . .” Long pause. “One thing sucks, your face kind of goes. Your body’s not quite working the same. But you earned it. You earned that, things falling apart.”

Or maybe it wasn’t a midlife crisis. Maybe it was a crisis of conscience?

“I carried the standard cynicism,” Pitt says. “But it was also feeling like, I can’t sit on my couch anymore, I’m going crazy. This thing I’m doing with my life, it’s very nice. . . . But it’s not doing it for me. . . . I’m watching the news and I see what’s going on in the world, and I see, like, Bono, getting in there, rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty. And taking shots for it. But, man, he’s doing something. And I see an old documentary of John Lennon railing about something. At least they’re in the ring. I seem to be in this ring. It’s something that brought Angie and I together certainly—she’s absolute evidence for me of someone facilitating change for the better.”

Now, in his life with Angelina, Pitt is as likely to find himself somewhere like Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (“Angie has been there several times and has actually spoken there”) or the Clinton Global Initiative (“Clinton in a room is as impressive as they come. He is truly extraordinary”) or teaming up with co-stars Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Don Cheadle to form Not on Our Watch, a humanitarian group working in Darfur (“What I had was a will to understand. This is the most important thing: generating a will to understand for ourselves that really goes beyond what news we see on television”).

There is an inescapable irony that one who is so blessed, whose life has been such a procession of gilt-edged ascendancy and Centurion Card privilege, should be talking about social justice. The establishment of the Hollywood star system doesn’t exactly rank alongside Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 as a glittering day for parity. Pitt is self-aware enough to know that there are those who see his interest in worthy causes such as third-world poverty as self-consciously pious.

“Oh, I don’t give a shit about that,” he says briskly. “People have been saying crap about me for 15 years.”

In July 2006 Pitt visited New Orleans with the international environmental group Global Green, which has established an ongoing initiative to rebuild the city. He dedicated himself to what his philanthropic adviser, Trevor Neilsen—who was part of the Clinton administration before working for Bill Gates and Bill Clinton and has been consulting for Angelina for some time—describes as “part social-justice project and part climate-change project.”